©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc.
Improving Field Services 2008
Automation is Making Inroads
Field Service plays an essential role in linking customers to a utility. Most Field Service
organizations are responsible for connecting and disconnecting service, when customers move
in, out, or around the company’s service territory. In addition, Field Service often assumes the
responsibility for disconnecting customers for non-payment and reconnecting meters once
accounts are brought current.
Aside from connecting and disconnecting, Field Service employees become the key investigative
resource for a utility—to understand problems with an account, obtaining usage readings for
customers and to support internal billing, investigating potential leaks, delivering disconnection
notices, identifying tampering, and often collecting in the field. Many Field Service organizations
also fill an important role as first responders in emergencies and service outage incidents. Field
Service is the critical liaison between the customer premise and the utility.
Field Service is typically responsible for obtaining any readings required outside the billing
cycle—to initiate and finalize accounts, or to investigate high usage—and often, for obtaining re-
reads to correct a reading and enable billing. The introduction of AMR (Automated Meter
Reading) or AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) technologies can directly eliminate much
of the special reads and reread work of Field Service. More sophisticated AMI or smart-
metering devices can even accomplish some of the physical on-site Field Service workload
through remote service connects and disconnects and tamper/theft detection.
However, until this level of automation is implemented on a wide-scale basis, most companies
are left with the need to send an employee into the field to provide these services on an as-
requested or as-needed basis to serve customers and keep the business running. Additionally,
once AMI/AMR is implemented, Field Service duties shift to AMI/AMR meter maintenance.
Customer expectations for faster or even instant service are putting more and more demands
on field service organizations, making it more difficult to ensure on-time arrival and high
productivity. In addition, the recent U.S. economic downturn has made it harder for Americans
to pay for basic purchases, including utility and telecommunication services, placing more
demands on field service organizations to provide revenue collection enforcement for the
company to minimize risk.
Utilities are also faced with growing need for more timely access to energy usage information—
to support real-time pricing initiatives, load forecasting, demand-side management, load control,
competition, and customer demand. Additionally, status and usage information is needed on an
event basis to improve reliability and power quality, or to identify outages or theft of service.